By Darren Lum
When you’re trying to enjoy the solitude of a Saturday morning at the cottage by the lake it’s impossible to do that with the intrusive drone emitted by a high-powered motorboat, which can be heard long before seen.
It’s a national problem and is at the heart of the Decibel Coalition’s efforts to change federal boating regulations to muffle engines on watercraft.
From a prepared statement from the Coalition, they said, “Current boating regulations allow excessively loud boats with ineffective or no mufflers on regional waterways. This is a major and growing problem, adversely affecting wildlife and human enjoyment of these areas. Waterways are regulated by the federal government, and a group of over 65 associations and municipalities called the Decibel Coalition is asking Transport Canada to put decibel limits on motorboats.”
There is representation supporting the Coalition from B.C. to Quebec.
Decibel Coalition project lead and advocacy committee Rob Bosomworth said it comes down to a few outliers that don’t really care about others.
“There’s a huge amount of inconsideration. I don’t really have an issue with people wanting to have fast boats, but noise is like light and smoke from cigarettes. It has no boundaries. These boats can be heard sometimes four or five kilometres away on a still morning. I’m on Lake Rosseau and I can hear them on Lake Joseph. That’s five or six kilometres away,” he said. “Can’t see them and the noise is still there. Highly disruptive.”
Bosomworth has been coming to Muskoka all of his life, while his family has been cottaging there since 1884. He says there needs to be legislation and quantifiable limits on what is acceptable.
Per a Coalition prepared statement, “Current regulations require small vessels to have mufflers or have through-the-propeller exhaust. However, the regulations do not include decibel limits on noise emissions. Enforcement officials lack the technical expertise needed to identify whether a muffler is properly equipped according to current standards. As a result, there is little-to-no enforcement of the regulations anywhere in Canada, allowing the problem to grow unchecked.”
The Coalition of Haliburton Property Owners Associations’ chair Paul MacInnes said his organization has given its support to the Decibel Coalition because excessive noise on lakes is a reality here in the Highlands.
One of the major contributors to the excessive noise on Beech Lake where he resides, and other lakes in the Highlands, he said, is how some motorboats have a dual exhaust, which is above the water.
“You’ve seen it on cars. It almost seems like they’re designed to make as much noise as possible. And for people who want peace and quiet and want to sit and listen to the loons or even just have lunch outside with friends and family the noise levels are intrusive,” he said.
He likens it to a “a very noisy motorcycle,” but with the water the sound carries a greater distance.
This isn’t all boaters, he said.
“It’s the minority of people with boats that cause the problem. And the Decibel Coalition folks approached us and asked us to support the national campaign. It’s not one of our core issues, obviously, but we decided as a board that we would support them and because they’re trying to put a national coalition together,” he said.
His message to the noisy operators is to be mindful.
“You know, be kind. Be considerate of others,” he said.
From the Safe Quiet Lakes Group, the Decibel Coalition was formed and has been working for two-and-a-half years on getting noise enforcement legislation. Bosomworth said they suspect it will take upwards of two years before the changes the Coalition has been looking for become legislated.
They have a three-pronged approach: one, work with the Ministry of Transport Canada, two, asking the public to have people provide input/make submissions, third, meet with politicians and the media to raise awareness of the effort.
Bosomworth cites a 2021 survey conducted by Quiet Lakes, which included close to 6,000 respondents, including people from Haliburton County.
“There’s a very strong correlation between people’s happiness on the lake and noise. Our survey said 67 per cent wanted two things with noise. It was enforcement and set a decibel limit for engine noise,” he said.
Enforcing muffler laws and decibel laws has already been in practice in places in Europe and the U.S. for 20 years, he added.
“It’s not just to manufacturers and operators, but they apply to anybody who services, installs, sells. The whole market stream [is legislated],” he said, referring to Europe.
Regulations also apply to manufacturing and maintenance work, he said.
Bosomworth said in the U.S. they raised concerns about noise in the 1980s. Now the rules are set by each state, but in Canada any legislation with the water has to be national.
“So, unless you can form a national organization, it’s really hard to convince Transport Canada to make a national change for a regional problem. So, that’s why we created the Decibel Coalition,” he said.
From a prepared statement, the Coalition also adds, “Local wildlife is also affected as high noise-emitting motorboats disturb and scare small mammals and waterfowl. Research funded by the National Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada shows that Canadian freshwater biodiversity is declining at an unprecedented rate, and research suggests the importance of noise pollution mitigation on preserving biodiversity and aquatic life.”
Bosomworth is hopeful change is on the way, but he acknowledges anything with the government will take time.
Per the Coalition, “Transport Canada has launched public consultations (letstalktransportation.ca/svne) in recognition of this problem, which was open until May 13. Of the five options presented, the Coalition believes that only option five will effectively address the issue. The Coalition is encouraging Canadians to send a letter to their elected officials via their website (safequiet.ca/our-initiatives/decibel-coalition/email-your-member-of-parliament-today/) indicating their support of introducing decibel limits in regulations.”
Bosomworth said Transport Canada told them that a coalition and political pressure is needed to affect change.
“So that’s why we’re making the politicians aware. It’s the democratic process. In a good democracy the bureaucrats will not do the work, will not make changes unless they’re completely convinced that there is a change [needed],” he said.
He continues, “They’re very cautious people. So, we’re trying to remove any need for them to be more cautious than necessary. But I’m convinced we will get it.”
See the website safequiet.ca for more information about the Decibel Coalition and its efforts, including what you can do to contribute to a quieter lake, which can be a simple modification to your watercraft.